Money Smart Kids


4 Ways to Teach Kids the Joy of Holiday Giving

Janet Bodnar

Get your family into the holiday spirit with traditions that encourage generosity year-round.



The best way to get kids into the spirit of giving this holiday season is to lead by example. Instead of just sending a check to your favorite charity, talk with your children about what you're doing and why you picked that cause. Then get them involved.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Put Santa on a Budget

Make the experience as hands-on as possible. The more directly kids are involved, the deeper the impression the experience will make and the longer the memory will last. The holidays offer plenty of opportunities. For instance, ask your children to help you choose a gift for a local toy drive. Better still, have them buy it with their own money.

Or you could give the kids a lump sum -- say, $100 or any amount you feel comfortable with -- and allow them to decide how they want to distribute it. In one family, the children decided to "adopt" a single mother and her four children for Christmas. "The kids used more than their allotted charity money to buy things for the family," said their proud dad.

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Build on holiday lessons throughout the year. Ask your children to help you pack up clothes they've outgrown or toys they no longer play with. And bring the kids along when you give away the old items so they can see how much their generosity is appreciated.

Once kids reach middle-school or high school, they're old enough to donate their time and volunteer on their own. Putting themselves in someone else's shoes can encourage a lifetime of sharing.

Remember that generosity doesn't just mean giving money. It also means being considerate of others and lending a helping hand. Last winter I wrote a column about whether you should pay kids to shovel snow or encourage them to do it free to be neighborly. I mentioned that when my husband took one of our sons with him to help the elderly neighbors across the street, the gesture made a lasting impression.

In response to that column, I heard from a mother who said that students at her daughter's school are encouraged to bring in spare change to help kids in need -- but there's a prize for the class that brings in the most money and most of the kids are focused on the prize. "It's sad that so many kids only want to do something good to get a reward," she says.

Sad and ineffective. Instead of encouraging generosity toward others, offering rewards seems to encourage thoughtful behavior primarily when it benefits the child, says Nancy Eisenberg, a psychology professor at Arizona State University who studies social behavior.

Offering praise or approval works better, but nothing beats getting down and dirty. Another mother wrote to tell me that her neighbors helped her shovel her sidewalk while her husband was deployed to Afghanistan. She returned the favor, and took her 7-year-old son with her. "Now he's into shoveling neighbors' walks whenever there's any snow on the ground," she says. "It's teaching him a great sense of thoughtfulness."



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